By now, you have heard that probiotics are essential for a healthy gut. But what exactly are probiotics, and are they worth the hype? Probiotics are living microorganisms that can help promote the growth of good bacteria in our gut. As such, they help improve gut health.
Probiotics have been found to help with even more than just a healthy gut: probiotics have been associated with reducing depression, promoting heart health, boosting the immune system and getting better skin. One theory behind why probiotic foods improve our whole health is that it’s because good gut bacteria can help promote a healthy metabolism, which can prevent a wide array of disorders such as obesity and diabetes.
Best probiotic foods for a healthy gut
If you’re interested in getting more probiotics in your diet for gut health, below are 12 excellent probiotic foods, without Googling “foods for healthy gut.” In addition to these foods, you might also try probiotic supplements. Look for labeling that says “contains live cultures” or “contains active cultures” in these common probiotic foods.
A standby for getting more probiotics is to eat yogurt with live and active cultures. Some yogurts are even advertised to help aid in digestion or promote their probiotic content. According to Harvard Medical School, yogurt usually has L. acidophilus bacteria.
Yogurt can be a good option for getting probiotics because it’s easy to come by, you can find just about any flavor to match your preference and you can easily eat it right out of the container.
Kimchi is a traditional Korean favorite made by fermenting vegetables with probiotic lactic acid bacteria. Kimchi can give you that probiotic punch, along with healthy foods like vegetables (most commonly napa cabbage, carrots, scallions and radish), garlic, red pepper powder, ginger and other spices. It makes a wonderful side dish and is traditionally served with steamed rice.
Kimchi is associated in research with anti-cancer, anti-obesity, colorectal health, cholesterol reduction, anti-aging, brain health, immune health and skin health properties.
You might be surprised to learn that pickles can contain probiotics. You have to make sure to buy fermented pickles, though — they’re usually found in the refrigerated section of the health food aisle. Some brands even advertise probiotic content. They trend under the term “healthy pickles,” but be sure to read the labels to make sure they contain probiotics. You can even make them at home. Some people even drink or make use of the juice the pickles are fermented in. Note that jarred pickles tend to be high in sodium.
Sourdough starter has lactic acid bacteria. The starter is the environment where yeast and good bacteria grow by consuming water and flour. Natural prebiotics and probiotics are listed in research as one of the benefits of sourdough bread. It’s also linked to better blood glucose control, a reduction in cholesterol, a lower risk of diabetes, reduced cardiovascular disease risk and improved weight control. Also, it makes a pretty good sandwich.
Kefir is a fermented milk made using kefir grain. It starts as a normal cow’s or goat’s milk, and then a grain-like yeast and lactic acid bacterial colony called kefir is added to the milk. The mixture is left to ferment for around a day and then the milk is filtered from the grains, leading to the kefir drink. The resulting drink is a powerful probiotic that packs more probiotics than yogurt.
Kombucha is a health drink that’s made its way more into the mainstream in recent years. You can find it in the drink aisle at major grocery stores. This drink is actually a fermented tea, so you’re getting the health benefits of tea with the probiotic boost of a fermented beverage. It’s made by adding strains of bacteria, yeast and sugar to either black or green tea, which leads to the drink’s probiotic-happy atmosphere. It ferments for about a week or more until it grows a mushroom-type texture on top. The mushroom gets filtered out to make new kombucha.
This German comfort food is a fermented cabbage, which is made by lacto-fermenting the vegetable in its brine and some salt. As part of the traditional fermentation process, probiotics are in the end product.
But this is another product where you have to buy probiotic sauerkraut or make your own. Many brands use vinegar and sugar or are pasteurized, which reduces the growth of bacteria and kills probiotics. Common canned sauerkraut is usually made with vinegar, or it’s pasteurized (or both).
This Japanese comfort food is served as a side to many meals. Miso itself is a paste that is typically made from fermented soybeans and works as a condiment to make sauces, spreads and soup stock. Miso soup uses this paste for the stock. Because miso is another fermented food type, it also packs the probiotic punch. Miso soup works great with larger meals or makes a nice, light lunch on its own.
Apple cider vinegar
Apple cider vinegar is twice-fermented apple juice. Apple cider vinegar has been making its rounds for years as a popular health supplement. It has natural probiotics from the fermentation process. Cleveland Clinic states that most studies on apple cider vinegar’s benefits are small, but many people also use it for anything from calming acid reflux to weight loss. It has a strong flavor, so if you don’t like the idea of taking it directly, you can add it to salad dressing, marinades or pickling.
Certain types of cheeses actually have probiotics. According to Harvard Health, cheeses that are aged and then not heated afterward tend to have probiotics. Examples can include Swiss, Gouda, cheddar, Edam, Gruyere, cottage cheese and provolone. So the good news is that many popular cheese types have probiotics, including a healthy bowl of cottage cheese with some fruit added.
Along the same lines as the kimchi and pickles above, you can also look into any healthy pickled vegetables that list as having probiotics. One idea is to look into lacto-fermented escabeche, a pickled dish from Mexico that can contain all vegetables. Or you can make a fermented Giardiniera, which is an Italian pickle relish. Using fermented pickled vegetables is also a great way to shop local and preserve vegetables for use out of season.
Buttermilk may seem like a drink out of Little House on the Prairie, but traditional buttermilk can be an excellent source of probiotics. The term buttermilk covers different types of fermented dairy beverages, but traditional buttermilk is the liquid skimmed out of the butter-making process. The trick is that you have to avoid cultured buttermilk, which is the most common type in supermarkets and usually does not have probiotics.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.